To Process or Not To Process? Let's Discuss

To Process or Not To Process? Let’s Discuss

Processing a RAW file.

Processing a RAW file can allow a photographer to bring out the full range of tones in an image.

Often when I’m looking at photos in forums online, or interacting with photographers in person, inevitably someone will proudly claim that the image in questions is “Straight out of the camera”. Almost without fail, this leads to a huge discussion as to the merits of post-processing images, with those on the side of straight-out-of-the-camera images acting as if those photographers who process their images are somehow in the wrong, or are being deceptive.

There are merits to both sides, to be sure, but what’s amazing is how staunchly both sides defend their positions. At times the discussion becomes more heated than “Mac versus PC” or “Canon versus Nikon”. Having been on both sides of the debate, due to the nature of the work I’ve done in the past, I can understand both sides. However, I can also say that both sides can be somewhat misguided in their arguments at times.

Processing? NO!

Unprocessed sports image

Photojournalists covering sports or other news are often advised not to process images, and some news agencies outright forbid it.

Those who oppose any post-processing sometimes argue that it is a crutch, that they don’t need post-production to fix their images, because they get it right in camera. That said, there are plenty of reasons why you might not want to process your images, purity of the image aside.

In the photojournalism world, image manipulation beyond dodging and burning, contrast, and color correction, is a big no-no. Every few months a story shows up in the photo industry news websites that tell the sad tale of another photojournalist who lost his job or a contest because he or she removed or added an element from an image. In the photojournalism arena, this is understandable. Your job is to tell the story visually, and removing or adding elements in an image changes that story. So in that case, it’s best to keep the manipulation to a minimum. Some news agencies have forbidden their photographers from using the RAW format at this point, to reduce the chances that the images have been drastically altered. The goal here is truth, and while the photographer has already added their spin to it by making important compositional and exposure decisions at the time of capture, that’s where it should end.

Editor’s note: long time National Geographic and Magnum photographer Steve McCurry is under fire for this very issue right now. What are your thoughts on that, is he in the wrong or is it a witch hunt? 

Event Photography

Event photographers who shoot thousands of images in the course of a few hours often choose not to process images due to the amount of time it takes.

Another time where processing images is probably not a great idea is when you are covering large events. For instance, in a past life, I owned a studio that specialized in covering youth sports events, such as soccer and baseball tournaments. On the average Saturday afternoon, it was quite common for me to capture several thousand images on my own, and I often had a team of three or more photographers working for me! Speed is the key at these events, so it’s important that the images be sellable to the participants and their parents as soon as they are shot. This means exposure, white balance, contrast, and saturation must all be good straight from the camera. As soon as a game ended, those images were loaded immediately onto our server to be previewed by customers and participants. There was no time to adjust that many images individually.

Finally, there are those who simply prefer not to do that much work on a computer with their images. The act of capture satisfies their creative urges, and they are happy with their images.  There is nothing wrong with that. Some might say that working in this manner ensures their exposures are correct in every way when the image is made, which is certainly an admirable way of practicing the art of photography. This philosophy of course, also allows you to go out and do more photography, and spend less time on a computer.

Those who choose not to process get their images correct in camera, because to them there is no post-processing option. It helps them be better photographers at the time of capture, because they must pay attention to the details of the exposure, check their histogram, adjust white balance, and apply the correct picture style.

Post-Processing is Part of the Photographic Process

Processed Landscape Image.

Landscape photographers process RAW files in order to pull as many tones as possible out of the image, preserving shadow and highlight detail.

Often, when I hear the words “I get it right in camera,” it often sounds to me like “I don’t know how to use Photoshop.” True or not, for those on the side of post-processing, the photographic process doesn’t end at the press of the shutter button, in the same way it didn’t end for those of us who once shot film, then ventured into the darkroom to develop film and make prints. Those who have never been in the darkroom will likely never understand exactly how much manipulation could be achieved in the darkroom, from color and contrast adjustments, dodging and burning, to masking and photo compositing.

The truth is, there has NEVER been such a  thing as a “straight out of the camera” image.

(With possibly the exception of slides, but they can still be altered in the printing stage.)

Even for those today, who choose to not use Photoshop or other image processing applications, the image is far from being straight out of the camera. You’re simply letting your camera do the processing for you. When you choose a picture style, you’re telling your camera how to handle color, contrast, tone, and sharpness. You can create your own styles as well, manipulating color and contrast in camera to your own liking. Simply because the image wasn’t touched on a computer doesn’t mean it wasn’t processed, or manipulated. Knowing all of this, doesn’t it sound foolish to say that an image straight from the camera hasn’t been processed?

Let’s get this out of the way quickly: Post-processing is not a crutch. If I look at an image on the back of my camera and say “I’ll fix it later”, then it’s already a bad image, and no amount of processing is going to correct it. I am a staunch proponent of shooting RAW, for many reasons. As an avid landscape photographer, I know full well that the camera can have problems handling a scene with a lot of dynamic range, such as a sunset. I use optical filters on my lens to help with that, but there are still times when the image out of the camera fails to capture the image I saw with my eyes.

Close attention to the histogram is essential, ensuring that I have all of the tones I need to work with, careful not to clip highlights and shadows. This is very similar to Ansel Adams’ zone system. I know where objects in my scene should register on the histogram, and I adjust my exposure to ensure that’s what I get when I open Photoshop. As Ansel Adams once said, “Dodging and burning are steps to take care of mistakes God made in establishing tonal relationships.” The same is true for color correction.

This side-by-side comparison shows what is possible when processing a RAW file. On the left is the image straight from the camera, using the Standard picture style. On the right, the same image processed in Adobe Camera RAW.

This side-by-side comparison shows what is possible when processing a RAW file. On the left is the image straight from the camera, using the Standard picture style. On the right, the same image processed in Adobe Camera RAW.

As a landscape photo artist, I do not consider myself a documentarian. While I’m not personally a fan of compositing images together to create the finished piece, I do believe that all darkroom tools are on the table. This starts with RAW processing, and continues into Photoshop, where I will use adjustment layers, filters, and masks to bring the most out of my image. My intent is to bring out what I felt when I was at the scene, capturing the image. Very rarely, for me, does a camera do that without a little help from me.

Adobe Camera RAW

This is the tool palette in Adobe Camera RAW. Each slider is a separate control over the image, and each tab across the top represents another set of controls, enabling you to get the most out of the image.

Finally, and this is my biggest reason for shooting RAW when it is feasible, is the purity of the data. If you are capturing JPEGs straight out of the camera, the camera has already decided to throw away a good portion of the data you’ve captured. JPEGs are 8-bit files, across three color channels. For each of the three color channels (RGB) the camera is converting your image, at the time of capture, to 256 shades of gray per color, leaving your image with 16.7 million total possible colors. In addition, the image is compressed, and redundant data is discarded. This compression is lossy compression, and every time you open and do anything to your image, such as removing a dust spot, and then save it again, you are throwing away more data. Eventually, artifacts will appear in the image, ruining it and making it unusable.

Today’s RAW files are 14-bit files, meaning each color channel contains 16,384 shades of gray. This means 4 trillion total colors are available in the image. Issues such as banding and artifacting, which can arise when using JPEGS, are nearly nonexistent issues when editing a RAW file. I’ve seen JPEG banding in portraits where the skin tones change, and I’ve seen it happen in landscape images where the sky transitions from a vibrant blue to a pale orange at sunset. It can happen to any image. So even if I plan to do nothing to my image but remove a dust spot, it’s worth starting with a RAW file that requires some processing. Even if you oppose post-processing, it’s quite easy to apply a picture style the same way the camera does, and export a JPEG.

Processed Portrait

Portrait photographers often choose to process images to allow them to create a feeling about their subject, in addition to allowing them to retouch the image, and make their subject look their best.


Honestly, there’s no right or wrong way to work with your images. After all, a photographer’s work is very personal to them, and everyone chooses to work in their own way. When I can, I prefer processing my images and getting the most from the file. When the situation calls for it, I will shoot JPEG, knowing full well I won’t be able to make adjustments later, so I make sure it’s right when I push the shutter button.

What do you prefer, and why? Do you process or not?

Editor’s Note: This is one of a series of articles this week that are Open for Discussion. We want to get the conversation going, hear your voice and opinions and talk about some possibly controversial topics in photography. Let’s get it started here – do you agree or disagree with the points above? Do you have any others to add? Give us your thoughts below, and watch for more discussion topics each day this week.

See all the recent discussion topics here:

Read more from our Post Production category

Rick Berk is a photographer based in Freeport, Maine, shooting a variety of subjects including landscapes, sports, weddings, and portraits. Rick leads photo tours for World Wide Photo Tours and his work can be seen at and you can follow him on his Facebook page and on Instagram at @rickberkphoto.

  • steve simmer

    No self-respecting professional film photographer ( journalists excepted) ever published a print straight out of the camera. Those were called “proofs”. However, striving to get a digital capture as right as possible in the camera improves one’s chances of producing a fine print without digital artifacts.

  • Agreed Steve. Although, I have been in a certain fairly famous photographer’s gallery, and the sales assistant tried to convince me that there had been no editing at all done on the images. Those of us who know better, know. But you are correct, start with a good exposure and and you wind up with a good finished product. Start with a bad exposure, and well, chances are you won’t be saving it.

  • Exactly! Exposure and focus are key – as is lighting. You can’t fix bad lighting. Processing in my opinion shouldn’t be about “fixing” your mistakes but enhancing what’s already there.

  • Dave Hallberg

    I have found that I have some images that I do not want to post process and others that are in need of processing to improve the light or bring out a part that doesn’t show up as I would have wished. It depends on the image. I shoot both RAW and JPEG with each shot so I have an all encompassing file and one that I can post quickly. I try and take the time to use my gray card to set my white balance but I also enjoy playing with the white balance by spoofing it to tungsten or shade or whatever just to challenge myself.
    I believe that any tool available for a photographer should be used as needed, however, when it comes to photojournalism reality of the scene is what is there at the time of the shot. Removing objects or changing the image in a way that is artificial is just plain wrong.

  • Arthur_P_Dent

    I find the policy by Reuters to ban RAW files for fear of manipulation to be short-sighted. RAW is one of the best defenses against a charge of manipulation, because it is straight sensor data and can show the original image, thus either exonerating a photog accused of unethical manipulation, or revealing that the finished image was heavily manipulated. Most of the photojournalists I know shoot RAW.

  • dabhand

    It’s painfully obvious that anyone who claims to get it SOOC is either deluding themselves or attempting a bit of misplaced ‘oneupmanship’ – you either get JPG’s which have been processed through a particular in camera pre-selected picture style, or you get RAW files which have to be processed to deliver an image.

    Processing images is a fact of life, the fact that some may attempt to faithfully represent the image as they ‘remember’ it is neither any better or worse than those who work an image to satisfy their own ‘style’.

  • Tyger

    All my photographs are shot in RAW, so they get processed. Sometimes, converting to jpeg and is all I do but usually, I crop a little, lighten a little, sharpen a little, blur a little, contrast a little etc. to make a more creative photo. That is part of the artistic process. Why deny it?

  • Joel

    How can you shoot in RAW and not process your photos?

  • GrimmTale

    You can still open the image w/either Pshop or Lightroom, but don’t make any adjustments, and save as .jpg file. The image is just as it was in the camera.

  • Yes. This has the benefit of maintaining file integrity, since the original is uncompressed, and you can apply the Picture Style you want. So, if you don’t want to get involved in processing beyond what the camera would do, this is the best option.

  • GrimmTale

    I work for a federal agency whose mission I am capturing, almost always dictates the amount of x-tra processing I can do (as far as creative style, etc) – they must have what-you-see-is-what-you-get, in the final product/print. I guess you could say the mission in pictures is my objective.
    I always shoot in RAW, and use LRoom/PShop for exposure, tone, adjustments, light/dark areas, minimal sharpening/luminess, WB adjustments if needed, contrast bump-ups, some cloning-out unwanted background annoyances, etc. Also, since I have a lazy-right-arm – or… my EOS 1DX is too heavy, especially w/the 100/400 lens (yes, I am shamelessly bragging), my photos are ALWAYS tipped to the right a degree or 2-3-5, very frustrating for me…but, I digress with that.
    I always have some cropping going-on, and at times shoot wider than necessary to make sure I am able to capture a lot of elements going on. There are many instances while processing, I notice a better representation of my objective within the image shot, and make adjustments for content/composition.
    I have a studio for agency portraits, and of course will process those more for blemishes, etc, but for the most part, that too is minimal (women are hardest to please in that setting, am I right?).
    My great lighting set-up makes me, the photographer, look like a genius every time!
    I think we all process our images – since digital moved-in, and film moved-out – we ARE the photo processing place. The digital photographer has no choice but to process every shot. When shooting with film, we relied on the place we sent our roll of film, but now – not only to we take the shots, we’re 100% responsible for the developing process as well.
    When I retire in 5yrs, I will ABSOLUTELY get on the more creative actions in processing images band-wagon …and I cannot wait! But for now, my photography must remain historically accurate in the representation of my employer, and that’s OK.
    Happy Shooting, Everyone!

  • GrimmTale

    Yep, exposure.
    We’ve all had that perfect shot which ends-up in the recycle bin, because of exposure.

  • Many years ago, I shot only jpegs when I ventured into digital photography from film. It was out of pure ignorance on my part, and partly due to the dread of having to learn and become proficient in the early renditions of Photoshop back in 2003. “Photo editing” on a computer from shooting film was as completely foreign. The jpegs looked ‘fine’ to me, but visually they failed in comparison to my film photos and I was forced to face my fears and learn what shooting RAW and Photoshop might offer. Fast forward to today and I completely appreciate what shooting RAW can offer. But it wasn’t until Lightroom became available that I found ‘editing’ enjoyable. Most importantly for me, I was able to finally get my digital images to closely resemble my beloved film photos. In retrospect, camera and sensor technology has played a huge contributing part in reducing the need to shoot RAW as well. For example, my Fuji X100T shoots jpegs in ‘Classic Chrome’ film emulation that look fantastic to me, which negates the need to do any processing. Nowadays, when I shoot for clients, I shoot RAW. But for personal work I can now happily shoot jpeg. I find both file types important and use both. The choice to use one or the other (or both) should be based on the photographers personal and professional needs, restrictions, purpose, vision, etc. We have truly awesome tools these days with options to suit whatever desired final product! Sweet.

  • dabhand

    Then why not just shoot JPG in the first place, if you have no intention
    of doing any processing what’s the point of shooting in RAW ?

  • GrimmTale

    For that reason, yup…I would have to agree with going ahead and remove the RAW in-camera setting, and just go with jpg. But, the RAW original image is a larger file-size than the in-camera jpg file, even after saving the file w/LRoom-PShop.
    I guess we’ll have to wait and see if the original poster replies, so we can determine what their thought process is behind RAW images…?

  • GrimmTale

    I couldn’t agree more! Transitioning from exclusively film, into the digital world – for me, was mind-blowing! And, at times I still am gob-smacked at the options available today with equipment, and processing software.

  • Bob_Wild

    Great post Rick, I wrote an article very similar to this call Pre Vs Post processing. There are many reason photographers do there work flow.
    You can read the blog here

  • Leyden

    I’m working on trying to slow down and think before I shoot and I’m still learning photography and the use(s) of my camera, but I have to say I wish I had a nickle for all the megabytes of focus issues that got trashed and another nickle for every time LR saved my exposure issues. One of my goals [philosophies?] is to ‘get it [close] to right’ in the camera and minimize post.

  • TC Conner

    Intriguing piece. As a relatively new (February) DSLR photographer I always shoot in manual and RAW. I’m learning each and every time I press the shutter and each and every time I edit in Lightroom. Some photos need more tweaks than others, and yes, I have taken a few (lucky)shots that don’t need any tweaks. SOOC vs. Post-editing is not a fight I’m willing to bet on. 🙂

  • Gayle Neufeld

    I shoot only in RAW, so I process my images. At minimum I use the basic panel in Lightroom, but usually adjust color, sharpen, and of course lens correction. Depending on what I am going to use the image for, I may do more. If I am going to enter an image into a contest, I make sure I read the contest rules. If more than dodging and burning is not allowed, then don’t submit an image on which I’ve done more than that. On the other hand, if I want to sell the image as fine art, then artistic license allows me to do what I want with the image.

  • waynewerner

    More accurately – either your camera processes the RAW data for you, or you do it yourself.

    I tried shooting in RAW for a while, but all it did was add time and steps to my process. I wasn’t doing anything special with them. Sure, maybe I could boost saturation or fiddle with curves or do noise reduction, but my camera made the same choices that I was making (comparing my final image with the preview that it recorded). So I stopped doing that.

    Though looking at the sunset picture, that definitely gives me some motivation to consider RAW again. At least for shots like that 🙂

  • waynewerner

    That’s what happened to me – the only thing I did made my images turn out exactly like the preview that my camera recorded. That’s when I stopped worrying and learned to love the JPEG.

  • waynewerner

    I found that to be the most bizarre statement, too. I wonder if the author just got things backwards, and they only accept RAW?

  • KJ

    I started with developing film and printing in the darkroom so I learned what to do in order to get the most out of the camera and film in terms of exposure latitude and color depth. To me its a natural extension to do post processing on my images because I still lean toward under exposing in camera and correcting in post. This can give me a truer rendition of what my eye saw.

    Since the human eye is more sensitive than a camera sensor, post processing is a way to get my eye’s version onto a page. I think what makes processing ‘too much’ is if the end result doesn’t look anything like the original scene. I see so many photos where the saturation is pushed beyond reality and colors look artificial. Now sometimes creating ‘art’ in this manner is good but when every shot some photographers take looks like a Thomas Kinkade painting I personally don’t like it and feel that it detracts from the scene. As in many things these days, it feels to me like somebody is trying to make me see things their way rather than capturing reality and doing it in such a way as for me to discover their take instead of hitting me over the head with it !

    I guess what I am saying is when post processing replaces skill and talent, its too much. Just my opinion though.

  • Cuttie2b

    My only comment is that what the eye sees is often not what the camera captures. Our eyes are capable of seeing a range of colors and dynamics that the camera and the lens cannot easily reproduce. So if in post processing we are able to capture more of what our eyes saw, then it’s not really “processing” to cheat, but only to more clearly approximate what we saw. RAW shooting is not a habit of mine, however in my last portrait session I chose JPEG shots over RAW because of time and laziness. Now that I’ve gone through the photos and edited some of them, I find that I made a major mistake in not shooting RAW because in editing the JPEGs it was apparent that I lost way too much data on some photos and rendered them unusable. That right there convinced me that I won’t be doing a lazy shoot again thinking this would be “faster”. However choosing to shoot in RAW should not be done to capture what you should have caught the first time around, i.e. correct exposure, white balance, etc. because you really should be able to shoot out of the camera a generally good shot and post production should be used to produce better tonal quality, more or less light lost and color correction. When you take a photo past what it originally looked like by manipulating it with a whole bunch more filters, etc. you are taking the photo to another realm of “art” and a disclaimer should accompany it! Perhaps labeling a shot as “as viewed through PS or LR” would allow people to know this was a post production photo and not fresh out of the camera. I too have seen way too many photos that I know have been post processed to the max and I tend to dislike the look more and more. When it’s obviously photoshopped or you see extremes of dynamic range, it’s like looking at a fake diamond, very pretty but you know it’s fake.

  • I did not. I have friends who shoot for Reuters and they require unmanipulated jpegs. You can tell from the EXIF if the file has been modified, which is the reason for their requirement. A Joey SOOC will have the same file creation and last modified date and time, ensuring no manipulation takes place.

  • I find that the camera tends to put certain shades and tones in the wrong place for my taste. I can get a much richer image with a better range of tones through careful RAW processing. I’ve never really liked the in-camera picture styles, for the most part.

  • Arthur_P_Dent

    No, I’ve talked to a Reuters freelancer, who said they only want JPEG.

  • dougt

    I always shoot RAW and edit the image, say a landscape and only edit to what I saw when I took the shot. Yes I have done some extensive manipulations in Photoshop but I do not enter those in a competition or if I do show them to other people I always state what was edited or changed.
    What annoys me is the so called purist who say that is cheating. When I ask them do they use the various advanced functions in the camera or and the answer is yes then isn’t that cheating as well?
    To claim no one cheats they should only use the aperture and shutter speed t take an image.
    I can understand the media banning all editing as they could be accused of some heinous act or miss-representation.

  • lbrilliant

    Seems to me that photographers either shoot for themselves or for a customer. The former are free to be as ‘artistic’ as they choose to be while the latter may not be allowed or inclined to post process. Either way the question of ‘to process or not to process’ is up to the photographer based on who the ultimate consumer is, even if it is only the photographer. So there is no one answer to this question except “It depends.”

    For me, I have no customer except myself, and sometimes my family. So I feel free to process as much or as little as I want. Many times I combine several group family photos by taking faces from one and putting in another. Absolutely necessary to get good group pictures.

    The one thing I have heard in this discussion that needs addressing is JPEG quality and what happens with compression. Most cameras have settings for JPEG quality and the default is rarely set at the highest level. Furthermore, I often fight Photoshop to save my photos at the highest quality. On a practical level, I cannot post or send photos to Facebook or to other family members as RAW photos so at some point almost all photos get converted to JPEG. I would love to see a treatise on how JPEG works and what its limitations are.

    So, be sure to set your camera to the highest quality and always save at the highest setting. It helps.

  • jernewm

    As an intermediate level amateur who likes street photography and photojournalism I use post processing to correct and sometimes enhance my pictures, but never to change the representation that I consider essential to my type of photography. Have been raised on film (I’m old enough to have used Kodachrome ASA10 and B&W TriX at ASA 200) we were able to do, as described by Ansel Adams, corrections to light, but the image still represented the scene we took. Sure, sometimes it is OK to take out wrinkles and blemishes to make the subject look better, but to me it is not OK to make someone look thinner, etc, as I can do that when I take the picture. That is the value I still follow.
    If I were a pure artist and my photography was not to represent a reality, I might want to use some the amazing features found in the editing programs and have my pictures show things that did not exist or happen in the scene I saw, but that’s a different kind of picture making than I enjoy.

  • TW Douglass

    I agree whole-heartedly with the article above. For photojournalism, anything beyond minor colour or contrast correction would, imho, be considered ‘changing the image’. Remember OJ Simpson’s mugshot on the cover of Time magazine? They got criticized for making him look as bad as possible and thus manipulating the public’s opinion of him. I happen to agree with that criticism. But even editorial cropping changes the image and is (was) used by newspaper editors all the time. So, yes, adding or removing elements to a news photograph should be considered as lying.

    As for anything artistic (i.e. landscapes, street photos, etc) I say make it look like what ever you want and use whatever tools are available. Guys like Van Gogh, Picaso, and Dali painted a whole lot of not-particularly-real-looking images that we all think are great. They each had a style and made their images look a certain way. For the seascape photos above: one is a nice photograph of a beach at sunset, the other is a dramatic image of a beach at sunset. Why is one a nice photograph and one a ‘fake picture’? If the image on the right had been rendered by use of paint and canvas it would win a blue ribbon. But since it is a photograph, why is it considered a ‘fake picture’?

    Maybe we should use the designations ‘photograph’ and ‘image’ to denote the amount of post-processing we do. But then when does a photograph become an image? Food for thought.

  • Tara68958

    I basically profit approximately 6k-8k bucks monthly for freelance jobs i do at home. If you are prepared to do basic freelance work for several hours /day from your house and earn valuable paycheck while doing it… Then this job opportunity is for you…


  • davgar51

    unless you know the Unix command line 😉

  • Agree completely!

  • maria

    This is my testimony about the good work of a doctor who cured names is maria willson,i was parkinson’s positive for 2 years,so i tried so many medicine such levodopa ,i was not able to get cured, till one day i saw someone post about doctor bongani who cured him ,so i contacted him via his email.drbonganiherbalcure(at)gmail(dot)com,so he replied .and said he will cure me ,i thought it was a joke .so said i must send me details to him .which i did ,then i purchased the herbal medicine ,which was not expensive,so he i sent it to me ,when i received the herbal medicine ,he told me how to use it ,and said i will be cured within two weeks of usage,so i believed and have faith ,every thing he said happened as planned ,and am free from the deadly diseases .please don’t neglect this post is very true and real two months now i feel so great and healthy just try u will testify.he also cures HERPES,ALS,MND,EPILEPSY,LEUKEMIA,ASTHMA,,GONORRHEA,,EMPHYSEMA,GENITAL WARTS ETC…

  • freeopinions

    “Simply because the image wasn’t touched on a computer doesn’t mean it wasn’t processed, or manipulated. Knowing all of this, doesn’t it sound foolish to say that an image straight from the camera hasn’t been processed?”

    Why can’t some people get this though their heads? Digital photos are processed by algorithms programmed into the camera by an engineer somewhere. There is a “standard” that has been approved by management and if you shoot “straight out of the camera” you get an image processed to their standard, not yours.

    “…for those on the side of post-processing, the photographic process doesn’t end at the press of the shutter button, in the same way it didn’t end for those of us who once shot film, then ventured into the darkroom to develop film and make prints.”

    The earliest photographers had no labs to send their film off to, and were not only artists, but chemists as well. They created their own film, their own emulsions, and their own processes. They were “real photographers.”

    As time went on, more and more of the process was made commercially available, until all a “photographer” had to do was push a button and send his/her film off to a lab to be processed and printed for her/him, to the lab’s standards. Choose a different lab, get a different standard, and a different looking print.

    Today, the “lab” is contained within the camera, but just like sending it off to the chemical lab, your processed-to-a-standard image is very likely to be different from the same one taken with another brand of camera, or a camera with a different type of sensor, just as different films gave you different looks. Fujichrome Velvia was vastly different from Kodachrome. Which one was “real photography,” and which was not?

    When I first became involved in Internet photography in the 90s, this kind of argument was already raging on every available board and Usenet forum. Then it was “You’re not a “real? photographer unless you shoot film. Electrons are not silver halides, so digital can never be the real thing.” That silliness has now evolved into “You’re not a “real photographer unless you accept the Japanese engineer’s vision of what constitutes a great image, and don’t do any processing of the image on your own.” Imagine the response to one of these “purists” from the great Ansel Adams after telling him that he had to “get it right in the camera,” and not do any dodging, burning, cropping or exposure adjustments in the darkroom, or he was not a “real photographer.”

    Really, folks; There must be something else we can talk about…

  • Kay Minton

    The issue as I see it is not lightening, darkening, cropping, etc., but creating a “photo” of something that wasn’t there in the first place. I see people ooohing and aaahing over a photo that turns out not to represent an actual scene, but something created on the computer. That is what I object to. The only thing I do with my photos on the computer is crop. So what you see, is what I got minus some minor detail. If you want to “create” a scene, much as an artist does in oils or watercolors or whatever, that is fine. Just don’t represent a photo as “factual” if it isn’t.

  • Robert Carter

    I think of photography as ‘light drawing’ (or, perhaps, light painting). When my photographs come out of the camera, there are generally several ways yet to play with the light to accomplish my finished ‘drawing’ or ‘painting’. Sure, we can get it right ‘in-camera’, but some of us want to get it even better by playing with the light we have captured. Good article . . . This discussion will go on forever and never be resolved.

Join Our Email Newsletter

Thanks for subscribing!

DPS offers a free weekly newsletter with: 
1. new photography tutorials and tips
2. latest photography assignments
3. photo competitions and prizes

Enter your email below to subscribe.
Get DAILY free tips, news and reviews via our RSS feed